Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Harebrained Ideas

Last sunset in U.S. waters for a while.

As we prepare to cross the Gulf Stream TOMORROW and leave the U.S. for the Bahamas we want to take a moment to recap on what brought us here, and try to motivate you to join us.  

Just a little more than 4 years ago, Dan was standing on a Cape Cod beach watching sail boats ease by. In a grand moment of clarity he decided he wanted to learn how to sail. Things quickly evolved into “I want to live on a sailboat.”  A Pros and Cons list was made. “No regrets” tipped the scale. He took his first sailing lesson and then found Sarah.

Just three years ago I knew nothing about sailing and even less about Dan Neilan. I was preparing to go to California as a travel nurse and delighted in torturing my parents with plans to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail.

By chance we met. Before long we were dreaming of casting off docking lines for distant coasts. We sailed most weekends in Boston Harbor. Dan taught me as much as he could despite being cursed with a stubborn student.  All that mattered was we loved to sail and one another. We yearned for a chance to test ourselves. Not only at the helm, but also by shrugging off the familiar and immersing ourselves in an unknown adventure.

One night, deep into winter and rum, we discussed if we could really do it. Money, family, jobs, material belongings, were all negotiable. But, what of our innermost faults and fears? An undertaking that removes you from social norms and modern comforts may reveal in you new weakness.

My unwavering confidence in us comes from how we defined adventure. We want adventure. No regrets. But what does that mean? We agreed that a real adventure makes you uncomfortable. Removed you from your comfort zone so you can practice new skills and learn something about yourself and the world around you.

“You must love him an awful lot.” Said everyone. Yeah, of course! But your love for anyone person cannot be your soul motivation for discarding life as you know it. Every time things get too hard and I wonder, “Is it all worth is?” All I have to do is remember what my priorities really are. I don’t need to turn to Dan for reassurance because I know he is on the same journey for adventure, growth, and enrichment. It is all worth it.  

How can it be only 4 years ago Dan bought Sarah? If it isn’t already apparent to our readers, let me just state plainly-- Dan and I don’t have “enough experience” to sail down the east coast.  We had plenty of people reiterate this supposed fact during our preparations. So, how did we manage it?

We successfully sailed down the east coast of the US (with exception of Maine) without major incident. I say sail, and I mean it. We sailed 90% of the way. We spent only 3 days motoring in the ICW.  We even managed to spend an additional day in the ICW, traveling 20 miles, without ever turning on the engine. Such a sense of accomplishment comes when you back the sail to set the anchor in complete calm and silence. It has become increasingly rare for us to turn on the engine when becalmed.

It took a lot of patience, waiting for weather windows, preparations while dry-docked, and determination to accomplish what we have. With combined sailing experience of just 7 seasons we managed not to kill each other or sink the boat. It isn’t much, but it is something.

To those naysayers; i.e. coworkers, ophthalmologists, neighbors and west marine employees; I don’t want to say “I-told-you-so” (although I did just manage to sneak that in there.) I listened to your suggestions and I also listened to your unspoken fears. To the naysayers I suggest you re-evaluate your priorities. You don’t need the perfect boat, with all the state-of-the-art equipment. You don’t need to wait for retirement. There is no such thing as the perfect weather window. There is no such thing as the perfect crew. You will never have enough money. You will only have enough experience for a passage after you traverse it.

I don’t know what your dreams are. My dreams 3 years ago didn’t include a 30 ft boat with a leaky holding tank under my bed. I also know my dreams didn’t include regret or fear. Over the past 4 months I’ve seen more sunsets, met more generous strangers, and felt more empowered than ever.

Dan and I aren’t special, we aren’t the exception. We are just two kids with a little determination.

I guess all I want to say is don’t wait. You don’t have to be a nurse to know you may not have as much time on this earth as even your 5-year plan allows. This is how Dan and I arrived in North Key Largo. I can list a dozen reasons why I, especially, shouldn’t be here; student loan debt, seasickness, lack of experience... But, I wouldn’t trade the last three months for any of it.


  1. VERY well said! I think a lot of the naysayers have that opinion because they wish they could have done something equally as crazy and adventurous at some point in their life. And for those that really and truly don't get it, that's okay too. If everyone wanted to go out cruising a big element of the inherent adventure would be missing. I like being a little different and bucking the norm, as do you guys it sounds like :) Cheers! ~Jackie

    1. Thanks Jackie! I was just reading some of your story and I can't wait for you two to set sail this summer. Best, Allyson

    2. Ally, great job on the blog..well written, and I support your 200%. (Similar challenges, tightroping without a net, and loving doing it and, forever being able to remember it, at least, in my experience, is priceless!) Keep sailing, writing, enjoying, loving, and, most of all keep the spirit of adventure well nurtured!
      Proud of you

  2. Nicely done ... go n-éirí an bóthar libh!

  3. Awesome! Looking forward to reading about more adventures in the Bahamas.

  4. Well written! You can always go make more money, time and health you don't get more of. Enjoy life while you are living!

  5. I started my sailing adventure in much the same way at the age of 22 with my then 23 year old boyfriend. Now as husband and wife and 32 years as full time live aboards, the sailing adventures continues. Congratulations to both of you!

  6. Harebrained today; gone tomorrow...always great to read about lovers who takes leaps of faith...great way to face fears and flaws.

  7. Harebrained today; gone tomorrow...always great to read about lovers who takes leaps of faith...great way to face fears and flaws.


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